Tragedy has played a critical role in the MCU since its dawn. Many of our favorite characters are forged out of tragedies, and they carry their trauma within themselves. It is their tragic past that adds to their persona and complex character arc. Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Natasha Romanoff, Drax, Nebula, Valkyrie, and Stephen Strange each have a tragic past that has become an inherent part of what makes them unique. However, not all the characters hit by tragedy are superheroes. There are a handful of characters that allowed their tragedies to take control of their minds and turn their back on society, one way or another. In this article, we will talk about 6 such times when tragedy led to villainy in the MCU.
Not A Low-Key Childhood: Loki The God Of Mischief
Loki is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved characters in the MCU. And despite being a villain, his tragic past is what led many people to connect with him way deeper than usual. His complex relationship with his non-biological father, Odin, and the death of Frigga, his non-biological mother, caused inner turmoil that he would carry inside him throughout his life. As a kid, he was abandoned and left to die. He was emotionally hurt and he carried the trauma of not being Odin’s son but that of a Frost Giant. His complex relationship with his brother Thor also results from his feeling of being the adopted son. The death of his mother, who loved him a lot, further added to his pain and rage. And all this ultimately turned him into a character that is so complex yet refined as a villain.
Balancing The Universe: A Thanos Theory
Before talking about Thanos, let us make one thing clear. Addressing Thanos as a tragic character doesn’t validate his actions. His proposal to destroy half of the life on his home planet, Titan, was outright rejected, and as a result, the whole planet perished. He lost his home planet, and one can barely imagine what that would feel like. So when he took matters into his own hands about maintaining balance in the universe, he didn’t really have anyone to reach out to and take suggestions about whether what he had decided was right. He was the first-hand witness of the repercussions when things did not go along with his plan, and hence he had turned adamant. It is not really possible for us humans to look at perhaps the biggest picture of all; the apparently impending destruction of the Earth due to the issues of a growing population and a lack of sustainability. What further propelled his urge was the sacrifice of his daughter, Gamora. His tears were proof of his pain; he pushed her off the Vormir mountain-top so that he could get the Soul Stone. Clearly, he had been through a lot and nothing could stop him from snapping his fingers on Earth. But the question is, Does his pain of losing his home planet justify his action of balancing the entire universe? Not really. Nobody gave him the right to do so, nor is it his responsibility to decide whether the universe requires a balance. If at all, Earth’s fate is in the hands of humans, not beings from some other planet.
Chaos In Memoriam: Scarlet Witch AKA Wanda Maximoff
Wanda Maximoff’s life is full of tragedy. Personal loss overshadows her very identity. Her parents were killed after a Stark Industries missile hit their home. Then there was the terror of staring at the weapon of their imminent demise for two straight days before being rescued. She then lost her brother too in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and was left without a family. In “Captain America: Civil War,” she inadvertently caused death and destruction in Lagos. In “Avengers: Infinity War,” she lost the Love of her life, Vision. This, in turn, would lead her to manifest Vision as well as her kids Billy and Tommy in a world that she had created out of her grief and pain in “WandaVision”; to the point where she started to believe that they were real. She ultimately has to lift the spell, thereby removing Vision, Billy, and Tommy from her life yet again, after realizing the harm she has done by claiming control of people’s lives. After finding out that her sons did exist in an alternate reality, she decides to use the Darkhold to get back to them. This craving to see her kids is what turned her villainous in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as she went after America Chavez to harness her energy of opening portals to other universes at will.
It can be said that the loneliness of being an orphan is something she knows all too well, and she doesn’t want her children to feel the same way. She wants to give them all the Love that she could never get. Moreover, her brother Pietro was all she had to call family, and she lost him later too. So, it isn’t wrong to expect that if Wanda had been able to get to her kids in a different universe, she would also have searched for Pietro. It is the vacuum inside her, the absence of Love, that eventually blinds her to the drastic effect of her actions on the multiverse. One might also say that her craving for Love makes her disregard the very fabric of reality. She had already killed many people, and in going against the multiverse, she had been deemed a villain, one easily on par with Thanos, if not greater.
For the Love (And Death) Of God: Gorr The God Butcher
Gorr’s tragedy is somewhat akin to that of the Scarlet Witch. While Scarlet Witch turned against all those who had tried to prevent her from meeting her kids, Gorr turned against the gods for not saving his daughter, rightfully named Love. Also, the whole tribe is dead, unable to face their planet’s harsh conditions. The death of “Love” gave rise to pure hatred for the gods in the heart of Gorr that ultimately summoned the Necrosword. So Gorr’s villainy is based on the tragedy that the gods whom he had worshipped did nothing to save his daughter. However, a single film doesn’t do justice to Gorr’s tragedy, although deciding to kill all gods since they didn’t save his daughter is understandable, even if not feasible. After all, all of us, at some point, have blamed the gods for not giving us something or taking someone away from us.
More Than A Villain: Eric Killmonger
Two motivations work for Eric Killmonger in “Black Panther.” Firstly, his father, N’Jobu, was killed by King T’Chaka, his father’s brother, and he was then abandoned as an orphan in Oakland, California. Secondly, he wants to end the oppression that the Black community still faces, something that his father wanted as well. That is why he went against the rules of Wakandan isolation and began facilitating vibranium to arm black people around the globe. This is why he wants to claim the Wakandan throne and use the resources of the nation to make Wakanda the most powerful nation in the world. Killmonger’s father’s death gives way to revenge that, along with his larger motive to stop Black oppression, is only achievable after he becomes the kind of Wakanda. So in a way, part of his tragedy is a tragedy that the world still faces and that is what makes his villainy so palpable.
The Most Sinister: Helmut Zemo
The only villain without any superpowers who was able to topple the very foundation of the Avengers, Helmut Zemo, deserves a stage of his own. He lost his entire family in the Avengers’ battle of Sokovia with Ultron in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” A criminal mastermind, he traces back the lives of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark to look for ways to break them, more mentally than physically, and he does so successfully. The tragic deaths of his wife, son, and father made him turn the Avengers on each other. The way he affected the Avengers and reminded them that they “need to be put in check” made the superheroes rethink their strategies. It is surreal how someone’s motive resulting from a tragedy can lead him to take on the Earth’s mightiest heroes and shake them to the core, certainly making him worthy of being addressed as a villain.